4 Days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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With its scenery and beautiful people, Rio is the perfect getaway for the guys (or girls). 

Getting There and Back

Departed: JFK to GIG
Returned: GIG to JFK
Took a much-needed winter vacation with friends, leaving chilly North America for the sunny beaches of Rio de Janeiro. We flew out from JFK and arrived at International Airport Galeão in Rio at 10:40 the next day. It’s a long trip, so book your seats in business class for seats that recline like beds. I advise catching red-eye flights each way to avoid missing any days.

Food at the Rio airport stinks! Eat before you leave for your flight or on the flight home.

We paid $300BRA for a van for our group of 10 from the airport to the hotel. It’s $90BRA per person for a single reserved ride from the airport to Marina All Suites.

Hotels

We stayed at the Marina All Suites in Leblon — the most exclusive neighborhood in Rio. It’s hard to beat this hotel for price and location. It’s right on the beach, with beach service available (chairs, towels and umbrella). The rooftop pool and fitness center  has a great view and there’s a fun bar scene — Bar d’Hotel and Bar do Lado are very popular, chic nightspots.

Beware of a possible bait-and-switch on the Marina All Suites and the Marina Palace. We read this in the reviews and it was certainly true. In our booking, we only discussed the Marina All Suites but when we received the confirmation they put us in the Marina Palace. We were able to move some of our rooms back over to the Marina All Suites.

The Marina Palace is not a bad hotel, but it’s inferior to Marina All Suites. Located just two buildings over from Marina All Suites, Marina Palace is also located on the beach but it doesn’t have a fun bar or nightlife scene. There are renovated and non-renovated rooms available. The renovated rooms are nice and clean.

Another hotel to consider is Fasano Hotel, with its modern design and efficient service. The hotel offers a fitness center, a great spa and a very fun bar scene. However, the location is inferior to the Marina Hotel and you need to taxi everywhere.

What to Do

Located between Pedra da Gávea and Tijuca Forest, Gavea Golf and Country Club is a beautiful private golf course in a jungle setting, just a $20BRA cab ride from our hotel. On our cab ride to the club we passed through some of the poorer Rio neighborhoods — it was pretty hard to imagine such a prestigious club in the area. However, be wary of the cost. They charge for every single thing you could possibly imagine — they even tried to charge for umbrellas when it was raining! But if you’re into golf, a trip here is highly recommended. We paid $350BRA per player for one round, $50 for golf club, $100 for a caddy for each player (required) and $200BRA per golf cart.

Marina da Gloria is just 25 minutes from hotel so we thought a day on the water would be fun. You can rent a boat for a 6-hour tour and lunch stop in Itaipu (home of the world’s largest dam). Half the deposit is required upfront to reserve the boat. The approximate cost for 10 people is $1,300. Although we booked a boat trip — we rented a 36’ speed boat named Cheers — we opted not to take it due to rainy weather. It seemed like they were available every day, so you don’t necessarily need to book them ahead of time since you must put up half of the deposit upfront.

We had a great time taking in a soccer game at Rio’s Maracana stadium. We signed up for the group experience which was very costly, but still great fun. If you go through the hotel, which seemed like the only option, they definitely rip you off. We paid $350BRA per person for the tickets plus transportation and a guide. Then we found out it wasn’t private transportation and the actual tickets we got were $30BRA per person. We ended up just paying for our own transportation and ditching the guide. It was great actually seeing the championship team. Things to know: there is no assigned seating in the stadium and no alcohol for sale. Eat before or after the game because the food sold in the stadium was awful. While it’s safe in the stadium, it’s not safe to walk around outside the stadium, which is located in a favela. Leave early to avoid the crowds emptying the stadium.

On the Beach

Leblon and Ipanema are the best and safest beaches to sun, swim and watch the girls walk by in Rio. Leblon beach was right across from our hotel, and our hotel had stations where they set up beach chairs and umbrellas. The water isn’t extremely warm but on a nice hot day, it feels great. Beware of the sun, it’s really strong by the equator. Everyone in our group got burned, even applying sunscreen. We highly recommend using California Tan SPF 30 Broad Spectrum. Stay hydrated! The fresh coconut water on the beach in Leblon was safe and delicious.

Restaurants

Bibi Café is the perfect place to grab a quick breakfast in the morning in Leblon. Get the Acai yogurt with granola and a coconut water each morning for a healthy start to your day. For lunch, try the Café at the Leblon Design Mall. The café boasts quick service and good Italian food.

For dinner, a must-visit is Sushi Leblon.  This is the best sushi restaurant in town, as well as the place to see and be seen. The sushi was fresh and fantastic. If you can’t get into Sushi Leblon, because it does get crowded each night, there are several other restaurants across the street. Most are a mix of Italian and tapas food. All are pretty trendy and fun with a good scene.

Brazil is meat-eating country. Rio’s Brazilian steakhouses — called churrascarias — are all pretty similar, so pick the one in Leblon or Ipanema. We made the trip to Porcao’s but didn’t find it worth the 30-minute drive.

Nightclubs

Clubs get going around midnight in Rio. Be aware of the special process they use in nightclubs in Brazil: You get an entrance card to use to rack up your tab all night at the bar, then you pay the cover plus your tab as you leave. This process is to avoid the people inside handling cash and stealing money. There is a long line when leaving the club because you have to pay to leave the club so try to make your exit before the club closes. Champagne and bottles of vodka were about $100 per bottle.

We had heard a lot about Melt, a live music club with a great location, but we didn’t think it had a great scene. Rio Scenario was another we didn’t think worth the drive or long line to get in. Miroir is a very cool club with great clientele, but it’s really crowded. The location is awesome with a cool view — directly in front of the statue of Christ. They play fantastic house music and feature a rotating lineup of the hottest up-and-coming DJs. Another bonus is it’s just a 20-minute drive from Leblon on the lagoon.

Our favorite spot was probably Barzin, which is fun and trendy. Located on the third level of a restaurant, Barzin has good music and a vibrant atmosphere. There’s an upstairs VIP area where you can hang with your friends. The nightclub also has a great location in Ipanema not too far from our hotel.

For drinks, the bars around Leblon are definitely worth a visit. It’s fun and safe all over Leblon, and there are great spots to hang out from 10 p.m. to midnight. Plus, you can actually have a conversation prior to hitting the loud, later hours clubs.

Quick Tips While in Rio:

  • Most places, including your hotel, let you put things on your room and pay by credit card (extra charge of 10%). If you pay in cash you can avoid this 10% surcharge.
  • Look for Citibank ATMs or ATMs that say “24 hour” on them — the 30 hour ATMS and others will not work with US debit cards.
  • American Express doesn’t charge you foreign charges when traveling abroad.
  • Admirals Club in Rio was decently comfortable and had showers, but I wouldn’t say it was very nice (Note: A new Admirals Club is being built in 2013 in preparation for the Olympics)
  • Make sure you leave plenty of time to get your visa for Brazil (this can be quite a hassle).
  • Use Wi-Fi at hotels and restaurants to avoid roaming charges on your phone.
  • Don’t wear nice watches or flashy jewelry and don’t carry too much cash on you at one time.
  • Get corporate rates on the hotels and you can get 50% off the room rates (JP Morgan rate works great).
  • It’s a three-hour time change from New York.

New Year’s Eve in St. Barts and 3 Days in Anguilla 2013

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St. Barts New Years Celebration

Party like a VIP in St. Barts. The favorite New Year’s Eve spot of the rich and famous is just as much fun for the less rich and non-famous.

We arrived a few days before New Year’s Eve for one of the most famous parties in the hemisphere. St. Barts completely dies after New Year’s Eve and only starts to pick up again just after Christmas, when all the mega yachts arrive in Gustavia Harbor. Consider Gustavia Harbor the center of everything there is to see and do. The party culminates with a fireworks show in the harbor on New Year’s Eve. Either rent a villa or come via boat. Taxis are horrendous on the island so call way in advance to have a driver set up or rent a car. Don’t expect to be able to hail a cab at all that night, but you may be able to hail one during the day.

Best Spots for Dinner
Reservations are a MUST for fine dining in St. Barts. Here are our favorites:

Maya’s
French-inspired Caribbean cuisine. Not within walking distance of the port, but it’s on the water and has a great view of the harbor.

Bonito
Fantastic seafood spot with incredible ceviche. It’s within walking distance of the port and has great views.

L’Esprit
Expensive, but the best Italian food on the island. It’s not within walking distance, so you’ll need to take a cab. It’s close to Gouverneur Beach.

L’Isola
Expensive and the highest-rated restaurant in St. Barts. Within walking distance and in the harbor.

Bagatelle
Located in center of Gustavia Harbor, this spot serves amazing truffle pizza and other Mediterranean cuisine. The location is the best but watch dinner service as it gets overwhelmed — turns into a nightclub each night.

Baz Sushi
This is the best sushi on the island, with a great location and casual atmosphere.

Lunch Spots
Nikki Beach
This trendy beach spot also has the best lunch scene. It’s right on the sand on St. Jean beach, so must take a cab here. There’s even a DJ during lunch.

Taiwana
This is the best spot for brunch with great views. Must take a taxi here.

Nightclubs
The nightlife in St. Barts is exciting and fun. For something completely different, take a cab to Le Ti. Tucked away up in the mountains, Le Ti has a must-see cabaret show at midnight and guests dress in costume. You can also have dinner there but we didn’t hear good things about the food. Yacht Club is where everyone ends up every night except New Year’s Eve. It’s within walking distance from the harbor and right on the water. The party starts about 1 a.m. and goes until 5 a.m. Bagatelle is a chic dinner spot that turns into a table dancing nightclub (the table dancing is encouraged!) The club atmosphere starts around 10 p.m. and goes until about 1 a.m.

Best Beach Scene
Do Brazil  is a fun place on Shell Beach in walking distance from the main port. It has a very cool, laid back atmosphere. If you’re really feeling adventurous, there is cliff jumping into the ocean if you swim about 100 meters out to the left. The main beach scene in St. Barts is Nikki Beach. You must drive here as it’s in St. Jean, but it’s worth the trip. Sunday is the main party day which includes champagne spraying, saxophone players and live dancers and often includes a fashion show. You’ll need to buy a lot of rosé or Champagne here so be prepared to do so if you want a table on the beach. La Plage is nearby and offers a similar feel to Nikki Beach, but it’s not as fun.

Best Beaches
Gouverneur Beach is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich but he allows the island to use it. It’s the most beautiful beach on the island, with perfect sand and water with amazing rock formations. You can visit by car or by boat. The beach is a must for a day trip. A bit more secluded is Colombier Beach. This beautiful beach is only accessible by boat or by long hike. Most people go by boat here and it’s very close to the main harbor. There are some great hikes up through the rocks above and good snorkeling along the sides of the bay. Sea turtles roam throughout as the sea grass has grown back in this bay. St. Jean Beach is the party beach. You can take either a car or the boat depending on the swell and party on pristine sand.

New Year’s Eve Parties
The biggest, best and most famous party on the island is the Abramovich party, hosted by billionaire Roman Abramovich. Everyone who is anyone will be here — so good luck getting an invite. Kings of Leon played this year and Jay Z and Beyoncé the year before.

Nikki Beach usually has some performance and dinner followed by a full club atmosphere, but the dinner is outrageously priced at close to $20k Euros. Just come after dinner for the party. Bagatelle offers another outrageous dinner but you can just come after the fireworks for the party for free. Le Ti also hosts a big New Year’s Eve dinner, but it’s the most reasonably priced of the rest at around $2k Euros per person.

New Year’s Eve Tips

  • Eat dinner in or on the boat and then watch the fireworks show
  • Depending on where you are, St. Jean beach or the main harbor, we recommend staying there for the night
  • Getting around the island is almost impossible that night
  • If you meet a lot of people the week before, you should have plenty of places to just hang out right where you are

Anguilla
After a few days of parties on St. Barts to ring in the New Year, we made a stop on the exclusive island of Anguilla. The only place to park a boat and clear customs here is Road Bay. It’s a nice little port and has a great beach with fun low key beach bars. All the dive shops are located here if you want to do any diving. If you ask around, they can call a taxi for you if you want to go to any of the resorts for dinner.

The two must-see places for dinner and sunset views on the island are the Viceroy Resort and Cap Juluca. The Viceroy Resort is newly built with the most stunning design on the cliffside. The restaurants feature great food and wine, but expect to pay a lot for taxis and for the food. However, we thought the experience was worth the price. You have two different options at the Viceroy, the formal dining room called Cobà and Sunset Lounge. Sunset Lounge had great sushi and is outside with amazing views. Cobà is located off the cliff, but depending on the swells they need to cover the open air walls with curved protective plastic that disrupts the view. It was still an amazing atmosphere if you are looking for a more formal dining experience. The wine list is extensive.

Cap Juluca is a beautiful resort at Maundays Bay with interesting architecture. Beachfront villas open onto gorgeous white sand beaches. The sand on the beach was the finest on the island and the resort was very welcoming to guests coming off a boat. Cap Juluca has several award-winning restaurants with excellent food, but we found Blue — with beachfront dining — particularly hard to beat.

Day Tours
Sandy Island and Coral Island
It’s very tricky to take the boat here — we actually saw a wrecked catamaran on the island. The food here was great and definitely recommend it as a good lunch spot — the lobster was delicious. They also have beach volleyball and all sorts of games.

Prickly Pear Cays
You need to make a reservation here if you want the restaurant open, but it was nice to have it quiet and all to ourselves. You can’t park a boat in front, you can only park on the other side of the island and dinghy in. Prickly Pear has a great remote feeling and the beach is quite long and perfect for a walk.

North Point
One of the best beaches we saw was at the northern tip of the island on a little unnamed island across from the mainland. It’s hard to miss if you are circling the island and we highly recommend stopping here.